04.07.2009What political parties offer to Roma?

The article is based on content analyses of election platforms of all political parties that received more than 4 % ballots on the elections for European Parliament and on discussions during the debate “Expectations for active inclusion of Roma community in the platforms of political parties” that took part on June 28 in Sofia. The article is prepared in the eve of elections for Bulgarian parliament on July 5.
The Roma integration topic did not reach the core political debate during Bulgarian elections 2009: like the ones during previous elections. May be because there was almost no real political debate or because the key political factors did not understand that the topic of Roma integration differs from the topic of “ballot trade”. Both topics are connected but there is no coincidence: sociological survey announced by Transparency International – Bulgaria showed that the vast majority of Roma (80 %) do not sell its ballot and not only Roma are ready to sell his/her ballot: such a tendency exists among many young people not speaking about the so-called “corporative vote” that in numbers exceeds several times the “ballot trade” in Roma community. The links between these topics are different: as long political parties do not engage themselves with Roma integration as long Roma will feel themselves not represented by political system and will be ready to sell their ballot. The same is valid for other big groups too. It is difficult to define what the real engagement to Roma integration means. Engagement through election platforms (as concrete as better) and engagement through incorporating Roma at elective places in the MP candidates list and in the executive power are two inevitable elements from this Roma integration real engagement. What the main political parties did in this direction during the election campaign 2009?

Election platforms and Roma integration:
The main political players included Roma integration at different degree and in different ways in its election platforms. Most of them preferred to miss completely this topic, the others included modest statements, there were also separate election platforms for Roma integration.
In 2005 Bulgarian Socialist Party became the first party with own separate platform for Roma integration called “For Roma, for Bulgaria”. In 2009 the party did not prepare its “Roma platform” and did not abolish or renew the old one. In the Election platform of Coalition for Bulgaria (formed around BSP) the Roma integration topic was not included. “For active social state” chapter of this platform puts accents on certain specific groups, such as young families, people with disabilities, unemployed, “the most vulnerable” but does not mention Roma. The same is valid for the other chapters in the platform.
During a debate organized in Sofia on June 28 Miroslav Popov, advisor of BSP Chair Stanishev pointed again that “Roma integration is social integration”. At the same time it became clear that the socialists do not perceive “social integration” as “social inclusion” in the sense this term is used by European commission. European Commission defines social inclusion as unity of employment, anti-discrimination and equal opportunities (including the so-called affirmative actions) while for BSP anti-discrimination topic is not desirable and affirmative actions is almost taboo.
The election platform of Movements for Rights and Freedom does not include the issue of Roma integration too. In different platform priorities – agriculture, education and national security – Roma are not mentioned. At the same time the platform contains (especially in priority axes “Education”) statements and texts that would support integration. These are the proposed binding of delegated school budgets with guaranteeing equal access to education of vulnerable groups and with development of the school system in a way that would preserve the smaller living places and so on. Interpreting the issues of school dropouts not only as social issue but also as issue of converting school into attractive place is a reliable basis for stopping the dropout process in Roma community and so on. The implementation of these statements would support the educational integration but it suffers from the weaknesses of a entire mainstream approach: it touches only parts of Roma educational integration and does not guarantee that Roma will be effectively reached. I.e. the effective targeted approach is missing.
MRF did not participate in debates on Roma integration. Both during the election campaign and during the previous 4 years MRF representatives preferred to stay in silence although they controlled the important institutions that had to steer Roma integration – National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Demographic Issues, Ethnic and Demographic Issues Directorate and others.
The third ruling party – National Movement Simeon the Second – also did not include specific proposals for Roma integration in its platform called “Life through the rules – the policy Bulgaria needs from”. It is hardly to believe that the proposed neo-liberal measures in different fields (for example education) would support (even in a in-direct way) the process of integration instead of deteriorate additionally the situation of the most vulnerable groups (as it was n the previous years).
During the debate “Expectations for active inclusion of Roma community in the platforms of political parties” the NMSS representative Yasen Yanev (deputy minister on labour and social issues) confirmed the engagement of NMSS to the Decade of Roma Inclusion and the Framework Program for Roma Integration.
At level “election platform” the main opposition party GERB scrutinizes Roma integration in the best way – compared with the other parties. In its main election platform “GERB Platform for European Development of Bulgaria” (especially in “Active social policy” chapter) GERB included several statements for fostering economic, social and educational integration of vulnerable groups as well as protection from discrimination. They are further developed in several “sector platforms”: especially in the social and educational ones. GERB approved also special platform for Roma integration called “Active participation of Roma in Roma related policies” prepared by leading Roma NGOs. It contains ideas and priority measures in several key fields: education; living standard, supporting environment and equal opportunities; living conditions and infrastructure; health care; culture; children and youth. The measures proposed in these key areas summarize pilot models created during the previous years by NGOs and municipalities and claimed their conversion into sustainable national policy. The Platform contains 4 new issues. First one is that it proposes program financing for the integration policy – with money from the state budget (delegated to the key ministries) and with European funds financing (through Human Resources Development Operational Program, Regional Development OP and the Rural Areas Development Program). Second, normative basis for Roma integration policy is proposed: the Parliament should approve strategic document and the Council of Ministers should approve operative document for Roma integration. Third, new mechanisms for implementation of the integration policy are proposed: strengthening the administrative capacity in the key ministries (establishing directorates linked with Roma integration within them) and profound change in the structure of the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Demographic Issues. Fourth, mechanisms for participation of civil society and municipalities are also proposed.
The only issue that did not become clear from GERB participation in the debate “Expectation for active inclusion of Roma…” is how sustainable the engagement of GERB with the implementation of this platform (prepared by NGOs) will be – especially during a deep economic crises.
The Blue Coalition did not include specific Roma related points in its platform. As part of election agreement between Blue Coalition and Roma party Shtit (one of several existing small Roma parties) the Coalition engaged itself with establishing State Agency for Minorities. This engagement was confirmed by Radan Kanev, member of the election team of Blue Coalition, during the debate “Expectations for active inclusion o f Roma …” R. Kanev pointed that overcoming discrimination against Roma as well as overcoming segregation will composew the core of Blue Coalition policy to Roma.
Roma integration is not included explicitly in the platforms of the other parties with chances to join the Parliament – Leader, Ataka and RZS (Order, Lawfulness, Justice). During the campaign the ultra nationalist party Ataka made its anti-Roma rhetoric much softer that it was in 2005 (unlike its anti-Turkish rhetoric). In his statements before the elections for European Parliament one of RZS leaders Atanas Semov mentioned many times “the growing percentage of Gipsy birth rate” as one of the main menaces before Bulgaria. LEADER party did not speak about Roma in the campaign although during the elections for European Parliament it gained enormously high results in certain Roma neighborhoods.

Roma in MP lists of different political parties
The modest presence of Roma in the MP candidate lists (especially at elective places) is not a surprise and continues the traditions from all previous elections. All compositions of Bulgarian Parliament from 1990 contained Roma (except the Parliament 1992 – 1994) but their number was unproportionally low compared with the percentage of Roma (in 2005 – 2009 Parliament there was 1 Roma MP). This picture will not change in the next four years. Nevertheless, there are differences in the readiness of different parties to incorporate Roma in their MP lists.
Bulgarian Socialist Party appeared to be more open for including Roma at elective places in its MP candidate list and most probably will be the only party with Roma MP / MPs. The coalition agreements between BSP and Evroroma Party and Roma Party are the main reason for this. The leader of Roma Party and MP from 2001 and 2005 Toma Tomov most probably will continue his carrier in the Parliamen: he is at second place in BSP list in Vratza. Two places were given to Evroroma – second in Ploivdiv District and fourth in Sofia district (one of them most probably will be elected, the other - not). Outside the coalition agreements BSP gave second place in Shumen to the National Coordinator of the Decade of Roma Inclusion Baki Hyuseinov. Although in 2005 BSP did not manage to have two MPs from Shumen some chances for Baki Huyseinov may be exist.
Movement for Rights and Freedom choose another strategy. It included many Roma activists at places that could not be elect especially in regions in which the Movement is weak: Sofia, Kyustendil, Pleven, Vratza, etc. Until now MRF has not had MP there.  Roma activists are included at places that are not elective (from 3rd to 10th) and the no real opportunity for them to join the Parliament exists. The experience from 2005 when MRF made a Roma leader of MP list in Vidin and won more than 7 000 ballots will not be repeated in 2009.
The Blue Coalition gave second place to its coalition partner Shtit Roma Party in Sliven. Most probably the Coalition will gain few ballots and second place will appear not elective. The Coalition included Roma in other districts too but their places are not elective too: in Pazardjik, Montana, etc.
Although GERB had well-developed elective platform for Roma integration and although during the municipal election 2007 GERB elected many Roma city councilors in key cities as Sofia, Sliven, etc. it did not include Roma at elective places in its MP list. GERB will have the biggest number of MPs but no Roma will join the Parliament through this party.
NMSS also did not include Roma in its MP candidate list – unlike 2001 and 2005. It is not a surprise that Ataka, LEADER and RZS also did not include Roma in their lists.
As pointed above, it is a prejudice that the majority of Roma sell their ballot. But it is a fact that Roma had few reasons to trust in political system: few parties incorporated Roma integration points in their platforms and even fewer included Roma in their MP candidate lists. Parties remain closed for this big group of Bulgarian citizens (Roma are more than 10 % of Bulgarian population). This would feed the practice of ballot trade as well as the appearance of new parties that would be open for all big groups – social and ethnic – of Bulgarian citizens.

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